My Boss’s Husband Threatened Me

A question to Ask the Workplace Doctors
about being threatened at work. 

Question:
What can I do when my boss’s husband threatened me, saying “When you finish work, meet me outside.” And, “You don’t know who you’re messing with”?

Response:
It is certainly wrong for the husband or wife of an employee at any level, to get involved with work situations, even if they feel their spouse is being treated badly by someone at work. Most bosses or employees don’t like it either. What you do in your situation will depend upon whether or not your boss has a boss above her or if she owns the business—and if the husband works there too.

1. First talk to your boss and let her know what her husband told you, if she doesn’t know it already. Tell her that although you may have a conflict with her or with the work, you don’t want to risk being harmed or having her husband get in trouble with the police, by having her husband take on the fight for her, forcing you to defend yourself.

It doesn’t sound as though the two things he told you would be considered a threat under the law, but she may fear that you will call the police and will take action on her own to tell her husband to mind his own business and stay out of hers. She may (and should) also fear that a fight of some kind could result in serious harm to one or both of you. Even pushes and shoves can be deadly.

2. If it seems your boss doesn’t intend to try to stop her husband or doesn’t take your concerns seriously, go the person higher than her—or several levels higher if necessary. Even if someone is sympathetic to the husband, they will hopefully have enough wisdom to direct your boss to tell him to stay away from the property or stop talking to you and to not cause further trouble.

3. If you have a witness to the statements he made to you and you can show that he has harmed others in the past or is very likely to carry out his threats, you would be more likely to be able to contact the police and say you feel threatened. But generally, statements have to threaten something specific. For example, “Meet me outside and I’m going to use this knife.” Or, “You don’t know who you’re messing with. I’ve broken legs before and I can do it again.”

I don’t use those examples to frighten you, but rather, to show you the specific nature of a threat, in most jurisdictions.

4. If you think none of this will help, you may need to find another place to work, where you will be more safe. That may be what your boss is after—or she may not want you to quit and will be jolted enough at the thought that she would talk to her husband. Her husband might realize how his bragging threats have created more trouble than he intended and he would shut up and learn a good lesson.

5. However, don’t lose sight of the original problem. Why did your boss’s husband think things were so bad that he needed to threaten you to make you change your behavior? It could be that he is mentally ill or has anger management issues and he is upset for little or no justifiable reason. But, when a spouse of a boss makes a threat, it usually reflects something the boss has talked about. So, consider your own situation too and resolve to be courteous and cooperative and to communicate in a civil way with your boss and others.

Quite often employees get into a habit of treating people at work badly, because they have done it before and nothing has happened to them. They let their negative feelings show and make work miserable for many people around them, especially for the boss. I don’t know your situation, but maybe the threats by your boss’s husband should be a wake-up call to you, to alert you to a pattern of behavior that you have gotten into, without realizing it.

If you have friends at work, ask them how you might be viewed by others. Ask them if they think there are some things you can do to improve your relationship with your boss. Focus on your work and on following instructions about it. Be a contributing part of the team. That may be all that is necessary to stop the unwanted interference of the boss’s husband. He is wrong to do it, but it may be easy to stop.

6. Let me reiterate that if you believe you or your property may be harmed, you should report it to the police. Tell them exactly what was said and when. Don’t go back to work if you think harm will happen to you there. I think you can handle this on your own, but I don’t know all of the circumstances and I don’t want you to put yourself in harm’s way unnecessarily.

7. Your immediate actions should be pay attention to what is going on around you. Have your car keys ready. When you leave work, walk with someone. If you see the husband hanging around, ask someone to walk out with you or call the police and ask them to stand-by to assist you if needed. In most police jurisdictions, officers can provide that kind of service.

At your home, keep your doors locked and do not open them to the husband if he shows up. Alert your family as well. Even it seems a bit excessive, it’s a safe way to live anyway.

Best wishes to you as you work through this situation. If you have the time and wish to do so, let us know what develops and what solutions you find.

Tina Lewis Rowe
Ask the Workplace Doctors